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Thomas & Friends, National Autistic Society and Character.com team on new clothing line

The Thomas & Friends brand team in the UK are working with the National Autistic Society and Character.com to develop a range of clothing featuring the popular preschool characters and designed to be autism friendly.

Autism affects how someone communicates and interacts with the world. Around 1 in 100 people are autistic. Every autistic person will have different strengths and skills and face varying challenges. Some autistic children are highly sensitive to the feel and colour of certain materials, to the extent that some clothing is unpleasant or even painful to wear.

This range has been developed in collaboration with the National Autistic Society which conducted research with families of autistic children and ran focus groups at the charity’s Helen Allison School in Kent.

Parents involved in the focus groups said that their children preferred softer fabric. Over half of parents who responded to the National Autistic Society’s survey said that there are fabrics their children will not wear, as well as specific colour preferences and ease of dressing requirements and needs.

In April 2021, Mattel commissioned a survey which was run by the National Autism Society with over 1,500 parents whose autistic children are under the age of 16. According to the results of the survey, the biggest considerations in choosing clothing are:

  1. Pull on clothing
  2. Easy dressing clothing
  3. No labels
  4. No buttons
  5. Velcro fastenings

The new clothing range has been designed with these insights in mind – with soft fabric and includes items such as loose-fitting t-shirts, jumpers and tracksuits, all designed for ease of dressing.

The National Autistic Society then ran two focus groups at the Helen Allison School in October 2021, where autistic pupils tried the clothes over the weekend and shared their feedback. Mattel has heard from fans of the Thomas & Friends brand that they ‘retain the love for the brand beyond the core age’, which is why the range has been specially designed for fans aged from 3 to 16 years.

The range launches on Character.com during World Autism Acceptance Week on 2 April 2022.

“Thomas & Friends is an inclusive brand who invites all of our fans to celebrate friendship,” commented Claudia Caron, marketing manager for Thomas & Friends. “We are very proud to be supporting our Thomas & Friends community of autistic fans through our partnership with our friends at the National Autistic Society to offer more choices and accessible clothing based on what mums and dads of autistic children have told us they want to see.”

Karen Hewitt, co-founder of Character.com, continued: “At Character.com, we value charitable relationships and responding to our customers’ needs. As a result, we are thrilled to introduce this Thomas & Friends range which Mattel developed in collaboration with the National Autistic Society.

“The Character.com team are delighted to be selling a range that was unique to the industry and provided our consumers with exactly what they needed. We are thrilled to be able to contribute to such a worthy cause, and we hope that this is the start of many such initiatives from Character.com.”

Peter Watt, director of national programmes at the National Autistic Society, added: “Finding the right clothing can make shopping difficult, time consuming, and stressful. So, it’s really great to have the chance to develop this autism friendly collection.”

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